Not the Venice of Japan, the funaya (boathouses) of Ine
On the Japan Sea side, at the western end of Wakasa Bay, situated on the northeastern tip of the Tango Peninsula in Kyoto Prefecture, there is a small south-facing inland bay. If Wakasa Bay is a downward-angled fist, Ine Bay is an inconspicuous mole at the base of its little finger. And yet this small inlet was filled with tranquility, abundance and a sense of pride held by those who live here, embraced by the sea. Situated at its entrance, Aoshima Island protects the inlet from the raging waves of the open sea and brings in moderate currents. Every day at dawn, fishing boats depart for the fixed net offshore.
The tidal range of Ine Bay is just 30 centimeters. That of the Pacific coast is two to three meters, and the spring tide of the Ariake sea is six meters. Because I had thought of all of the oceans as connected, I was surprised to learn this fact. Due to ocean currents, locations on the Japan Sea have smaller tidal ranges than that of the Pacific Coast, but that of Ine Bay is unique even among these. Furthermore, thanks to Aoshima, it’s also difficult for waves to build. These environmental circumstances can be said to have created a very special townscape, with its array of first-floor funaya, boat hangars of sorts, built to face the sea.
The Tango Peninsula is mountainous, but the mountains give way immediately to the sea. While people have lived here since the Kofun period (250-538 CE), at first they settled at a distance from the sea, but as they drew closer to it and gradually became more convinced that they could live in close proximity to the water, a community surrounding the inlet came to be. It’s said that even as far back as 250 years ago, funaya with the same structure as those of today lined the shore. Today there are about 230 funaya recognized as Groups of Traditional Buildings by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
The first floor of each family’s boathouse slopes down and faces the water so that the wooden boats, susceptible to decay, can be brought inside and stored.The second floor is not for living, but for storing fishing equipment. A funaya and a main house form a set, and between them, a narrow street runs through the town. The funaya are lined up with the gables facing the sea, while the eaves of the main houses are parallel to the sea and the street.
The people of Ine live in harmony with this calm sea. The sea directly in front of the funaya is like a garden, but abruptly drops to a depth of two meters. The outlines of fish are distinct in the crystal clear water. Ropes on which simple mondori trapping baskets filled with chum are suspended from the eaves of the funaya into the sea, attracting not only fish of all sizes but also octopi. Once caught, they are transferred to a live fish basket. This fishing setup and a refrigerator fit neatly under the eaves.
The two inns I stayed at were Kagiya and Wako. The proprietors of Kagiya, Kengo and Mina Kagi, were the first in Ine to renovate a funaya as a lodging for visitors. In a casual space, they expertly prepare the catch of the day for their guests. While Mr. Kagi's father had wanted him to become a civil servant, that would have meant working at a post office in the neighborhood, confining Kengo’s future to a location not 500 meters from his home. In objection, he escaped to Kyoto. While employed in the kitchen of a prominent hotel, he met Mina, his bride-to-be, at a cooking school he’d begun attending.
Akihiko Yoshida, secretary general of the Ine Town Tourist Association, guided me through the village. Having moved to the area eight years ago, Yoshida strives to create a protected environment that won’t be tainted by overtourism. Already well acquainted with everyone in town, he easily persuades homeowners to generously show me the interiors and the areas beneath the eaves of their funaya. Naturally, from each and every boathouse, one can enjoy the tranquil scenery of Ine’s water and the houses on the opposite shore of the bay.